It was Father's Day weekend last year when Betsy disappeared. Amid the bustle of Anchorage's annual rodeo, the 3-year-old cow slipped out of her pen. Soon enough, she was headed for Far North Bicentennial Park, a 4,000-acre expanse of rugged forest at the outskirts of the city.
The real-life cowboys at the rodeo saddled up their horses and headed for the park, but it was too late: Betsy was gone. And six months later, she's still on the run, having successfully evaded local law enforcement's attempt to scour the area with a drone and her owner's repeated efforts to track her down.
"I'm just totally exhausted from looking day in and day out," Frank Koloski, Betsy's owner, told The Washington Post on Tuesday night. "She's a go-getter, that's for sure."
It's not that Betsy has vanished altogether. In fact, Koloski estimates that he's gotten dozens of tips from joggers, bikers, and cross-country skiers who have spotted the wayward cow calmly meandering down the park's snow-covered trails. Often, he'll wake up to a call from the Anchorage Police Department, letting him know that the residents of a nearby subdivision have reported a cow on the loose. But each time, it's the same routine: "I go out there, I'm standing in her tracks and she's nowhere to be found."
On Tuesday, officers from the Anchorage Police Department searched for the rogue cow with an infrared-equipped drone as part of a training exercise. But after two hours, they came back empty-handed.
Koloski, who works as a rodeo promoter, still isn't sure exactly how Betsy managed to escape in the first place. He had purchased her the day before the Father's Day rodeo began, anticipating that he would use her for educational demonstrations and also let children ride her in the junior rodeo events that his company, Rodeo Alaska, puts on. Maybe she pushed her weight against a gate that hadn't been closed all the way, or maybe someone accidentally let her out. All Koloski knows for certain is that she was in her pen one moment, and the next, she was gone.
The 47-year-old had a good sense of where Betsy might have headed. The rodeo was being held at an equestrian center just down the road from Far North Bicentennial Park, which is home to a recreational ski area and hundreds of miles of trails that are popular with cyclists on bikes equipped with fat off-road tires. Koloski and his co-workers set off in hot pursuit, traversing the slopes on horseback and on foot in the pouring rain. But they couldn't catch up with Betsy.
In the fall, reports began circulating about a mystery cow that had somehow found her way into way into the park. "Almost got run over by a cow last night on moose meadow," read a November post in the Anchorage Fat Bike Facebook group. "As in, cattle, not a bear or a moose. ... Am I crazy or has anyone else had a sighting in the area?" As it turned out, other cyclists had spotted Betsy wandering the trails, leading Koloski to theorize that snow-making operations at the ski hill had prompted her to migrate to a different part of the park.
Anchorage is home to all kinds of wildlife, but its subarctic climate is not exactly the type of place where you expect to see cattle roaming around. At first, local blogger Craig Medred recently noted, people who reported spotting a cow on the loose were told by other locals that they must be hallucinating, and a story about the strange cow that was broadcast by Alaska Public Media was met with skepticism. Last week, Koloski finally solved the mystery by joining the Anchorage Fat Bike group to ask for help locating his missing cow. In a Monday article in the Anchorage Daily News, he asked anyone who spotted Betsy to pin the coordinates and call his cellphone immediately.
"This whole entire city has been phenomenal with the support and with getting the word out to help bring my Betsy home," Koloski told The Post. But so far, despite all the sightings, no one has been able to catch her. The cyclists and backcountry skiers who come across Betsy deep in the woods aren't "the type that run around with the cowboys," he pointed out, and lassoing a wary cow isn't an easy task. Likewise, attempts to lure Betsy with food have been unsuccessful.
Koloski has a plan in place: If he can just figure out where Betsy is hiding, he'll bring several other cows to that location. Betsy will immediately rush toward the other cattle, he predicts, and a number of his rodeo acquaintances have already volunteered to help him rope her. Until he knows exactly where she's located, though, he's not eager to let the other cows loose in the dense, dark woods.
In the meantime, Betsy appears to be doing just fine. Alaska cattle are tough and accustomed to the area's harsh winters, Koloski said. Since the park is within city limits, he doesn't think there's too much of a risk of her running into a bear or a wolf. There are still plenty of natural sources of water that haven't frozen over, and he's left out hay bales and mineral salt blocks nearby. During the summer, Betsy would have found plenty of fresh grass on the slopes of the ski area to feast on, he said. And even once the snow started falling, there were still patches of green grass to be found under the overhang of the trees.
"It's a cow's dream," he said.
If anything, he said, the problem has been that Betsy is too well-fed and hasn't been slowing down due to hunger. And the park's vast size makes finding her nearly impossible.
"You're talking thousands of acres out there," Koloski said. "There's white snow in the ground, but there's black spruce trees that she blends into. She's my ghost in the darkness."